Eight months after the coronavirus pandemic restricted the working of courts, the Bombay high court and lower courts in the state will begin regular functioning from December 1 onwards.
While 10 division benches and 12 single-judge benches of the high court are going to hear matters physically, three single-judge benches will continue hearing matters virtually.
The extent to which regular functioning will be possible remains to be seen, as the city’s local trains are yet to resume full-scale operations. Functioning with minimal staff so far, with the new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) approved by the Chief Justice and judges of the administrative committee, courts will begin functioning with full staff.
Lower courts, which had largely been working in one shift during the lockdown, then had briefly begun working for two shifts but had reverted to the single-shift system, will now work in two shifts, from 11am to 1.30pm and 2pm to 4.30pm. In the first shift, preferably, evidence will be recorded and in the second, cases fixed for judgments, orders and arguments are to be taken up.
The SOP has, however, directed that judges not take adverse action against advocates, witnesses, parties or accused persons if they fail to remain present. Entry to court is however, restricted only to those advocates, witnesses, accused persons and those appearing in person in their cases, whose matters are listed on a particular day. There is specific instruction to enter courtrooms only when one’s matter is called out and leave as soon as the work is over.
Everyone will have to mandatorily wear masks, even while arguing their cases and maintain social distancing norms.
The SOP allows bar rooms, bar libraries and canteens to open, which had been closed in the lockdown. The sanitisation of the bar rooms will be the responsibility of the bar associations.
The HC administration issued a circular notifying the re-opening of the courts on Friday evening. According to the notification, around 10 division benches (two judges coram) would preside over physical courts from December 1. These courts will take up matters regularly. The division benches will hear both civil and criminal public interest litigations (PILs), service matters, municipal council and corporation matters etc.
Further, 12 single-judge benches will take up the matters physically. The benches will hear commercial arbitration disputes, suits, adoption and company matters, bail applications etc.
As per the notification, only on-record advocates and arguing counsels will be allowed to enter the courtroom, as will advocates' clerks. The remaining, the notification states, will have to wait outside the courtroom and enter only when their case is called out.